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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU Promotes High-Value Specialty Crops for Small Farms

ALBUQUERQUE - New Mexico's small-scale growers can learn how to boost profits with specialty crops such as herbs, uncommon chile varieties and lavender during a March 28 workshop in Santa Fe.

The workshop, sponsored by New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service, will offer ideas to help growers get more bang for their buck through crop diversification and good management.

"Economy of scale offers advantages for large commercial operations that small-scale growers don't have," said George Dickerson, Extension horticulturist and conference organizer. "Large-scale growers can afford to earn less per acre for traditional crops such as wheat because they produce much more and they harvest with machines. In contrast, small-scale growers have less land and they rely a lot on hand labor, so they need high-value specialty crops that can bring in more money per acre for their effort."

Specialty crops are well-suited for small farms because they generally require a lot of handwork to harvest and they earn substantial profits with limited acreage.

"Delicate crops such as lavender and specialty herbs must be handpicked and processed," Dickerson said. "That discourages large-scale growers from producing those crops, driving up market prices."

At the workshop, Extension specialists will teach management techniques to improve production, such as planting cover crops to increase organic matter in soil. They will teach proper management of manure, compost and water sources to prevent contamination of vegetable crops.

"Good agricultural practices protect consumers and build confidence in growers, and that's essential for a profitable farm operation," Dickerson said.

Lectures will cover specialty herbs that are well adapted to northern New Mexico, uncommon chile varieties that can be processed into specialty salsas or used for ornamental ristras, and organic methods for growing fruit, particularly apples.

"There's plenty of apple production in northern New Mexico but very little organic, so apple growers can turn their harvest into a specialty crop by learning organic production methods that earn higher prices on the market," Dickerson said.

Randy Murray, a Santa Fe grower who specializes in lavender, will teach crop production techniques and discuss lavender-based value-added products such as oils and soaps.

Specialists will discuss food processing, including jellies, salsas and vinegars, and review government certification requirements. They will also discuss pros and cons of biotechnology.

Workshop participants can preregister for $10 or pay $20 at the door. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. Lectures will be held from 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. at the Santa Fe Cooperative Extension Complex at the Santa Fe County Fairgrounds, 3229 Rodeo Road, Santa Fe.

For more information, call Pat Torres at (505) 471-4711.

If you are an individual with a disability who is in need of an auxiliary aid or service to participate in the meeting, please contact the presenter before the event.